Flevo Trike

My Flevotrike is a fairly ancient model, bought second or third hand ca.1998, so probably nearly twenty years old now.

Background

The Flevobike was originally developed by Johan Vrielink in 1986–1987 as a project for schools. The Vrielink family set up the Flevobike company to manufacture the Bike in 1989; the Trike version was introduced in 1991.

It is a design which is eccentric even by recumbent standards. It uses an idiosyncratic “mid-steering” system (kantel-kniksysteem), in which the frame is in two parts joined by a hinge under the front edge of the seat. The hinge is controlled by a rubber damper (diabolo). You steer by leaning into the bend, moving your legs relative to the seat.

The claimed advantages of the system are:

  • it makes front-wheel drive a simple proposition, thus avoiding the need for miles of chain with the attendant complications of idler wheels and guide tubes that you find on rear-wheel drive recumbents like the Wizard
  • you can easily separate the two parts of the frame for storage or transport
  • you get a tremendous feeling of achievement when you first manage to ride the thing in a straight line
  • with practice, you can easily ride hands-free (impossible on most recumbents)
  • the modular system allows you to use the same front frame with either a bike or trike rear frame

Other builders have also tried the mid-steering arrangement for bikes or trikes, but the Flevo was the only one that caught on to any great extent, probably because of the low cost open-source “build it yourself” approach. In fact, if you know how to weld, I believe you can still get all the bits you need to build a Flevo from Hafa Ligfietsen in Asten.

See also the Official Flevobike fan club site for more background and Flevobike hacking.

My Trike

I bought my Trike secondhand from someone in Amsterdam, via an advertisement in hpv Nieuws. After a few lessons in the street outside his apartment, I was confident enough to ride it the 60 km or so back to The Hague. Fortunately, nothing major went wrong on the way, but it was a bit nerve-wracking at first. I did feel very stiff the next day, but found after a bit of trial and error that it was a lot easier to get going with the bars mounted on the rear frame rather than under the seat.

My Trike is an early model, still with 438 size wheels. This is a peculiar Dutch version of 20-inch, now largely superseded by the 406 size: Hafa and Tempelman, who took over the Bike/Trike product line, seem to be the only people who still stock the tyres. The Trike had been retro-fitted by the previous owner with the new, big rear box, and all the elastomers had been replaced recently. To add to the eccentricity of the whole thing, it came with a huge 65-tooth chainring and a Sachs Orbit 2×7 hub (an early ancestor of the modern sram Dual Drive).

Experience

  • It’s great fun to ride around town
  • The tailbox will swallow vast quantities of shopping, but can be horribly noisy when empty
  • Very manouverable at low speeds - with a bit of practice you can get it to turn in just over its own length: zig-zagging through obstacles is easy
  • You never have to unclip your feet, but you do need to keep one hand on the bars or the tailbox to keep upright when stationary
  • It demands a lot of concentration at speed - it’s very easy to roll it if you swerve to avoid a bollard or something
  • It wears out front tyres fairly quickly
  • Going uphill, the centre of gravity shifts towards the rear axle, and you lose traction on the front wheel - it can be a pain to get it moving if you have to stop on a humpbacked bridge
  • The seat gets uncomfortable on longer rides
  • The chain is unprotected (there should be a chain tube, but it obviously disappeared somewhere in the mists of time…) so it’s not wise to ride it in good trousers.

Update, September 2007

After a long spell out of action (mostly waiting for me to buy a new 438 front tyre), the FlevoTrike is back on the road again, and is returning to its role as pedal-powered shopping basket. I treated it to a new chain, and replaced the chainring with something that looks a bit less like a circular saw.

More Projects, 2010

The Trike was getting to the point where it needed another proper overhaul, at least to replace the brake pads, and check the joints and elastomers again. The gear and brake cables were still provisionally arranged as they had been when I first bought it: they caught on my heels and generally got in the way. The ancient Sachs hub was showing a tendency to slip, and the cassette and dérailleur arm had also suffered a bit over the years. I could do with repainting the frame as well, but battered paintwork has its uses as an anti-theft device…

One thought that had crossed my mind was to convert the trike to a pedelec. After weighing up costs and benefits I decided against this - it might have been quite fun, but it would only really have made sense combined with a new front fork assembly. And I don’t think I want electric propulsion enough to justify it: of the things that make me take the bus rather than a bike, having to pedal is very low on the list, way behind weather and risk of theft.

A more interesting idea was to replace the dérailleur by a modern, wide-range hub gear. It’s been done before, e.g. this photo. Advantages would include the ability to shift while stopped, better possibility for adding chain protection, and at least in theory a robust, weatherproof, maintenance-free system.

At the same time as changing the gear system I could also switch over from the obsolete 438 wheel size to the more common 406, for which there are many different tyres available.

I rather liked the idea of having a back-pedal (coaster) brake, for true hands-free riding. This has also been done before (Flevobike made a few custom trikes for riders without arms), but it has a number of obvious disadvantages, notably the lack of any means of preventing the trike from rolling away while you’re getting on and off.

In the end, I decided to fit a Shimano Nexus eight-speed hub with roller-brake. It went on easily enough. I had to grind off a lug on the forks that was precisely in the wrong place for the torque arm of the roller brake, and I managed to lose a vital page of the Shimano instructions (isn’t the internet wonderful!), but otherwise no big problems. First tests are promising, but the gears seem to go out of adjustment rather easily. I hope this is just the new gear cable bedding in: if it persists, I may have to find ways of shortening the run of Bowden cable or getting rid of some of the bends. The roller-brake seems to stop the trike quite effectively. I wouldn’t like to rely on it in the mountains, but then the trike is never likely to have to face any descent longer than a bridge ramp.

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